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San Francisco Chronicle
[This article originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, January 10, 1977.]
With at least the tacit backing of U.S. Central Intelligence Agency officials, operatives linked to anti-Castro terrorists introduced African swine fever virus into Cuba in 1971. Six weeks later an outbreak of the disease forced the slaughter of 500,000 pigs to prevent a nationwide animal epidemic.
A U.S. intelligence source told Newsday last week he was given the virus in a sealed, unmarked container at a U.S. Army base and CIA training ground in the Panama Canal Zone, with instructions to turn it over to the anti-Castro group.
The 1971 outbreak, the first and only time the disease has hit the Western Hemisphere, was labeled the "most alarming event" of 1971 by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. African swine fever is a highly contagious and usually lethal viral disease that infects only pigs and, unlike swine flu, cannot be transmitted to humans. All production of pork, a Cuban staple, halted, apparently for several months.
A CIA spokesman, Dennis Berend, in response to a Newsday request for comment, said, "We don't comment on information from unnamed and, at best, obscure sources."
Why the virus turned up in Cuba has been a mystery to animal investigators ever since the outbreak. Informed speculation assumed that the virus entered Cuba either in garbage from a commercial airliner or in sausages brought in by merchant seamen.
However, on the basis of numerous interviews over four months with U.S. intelligence sources, Cuban exiles and scientists concerning the outbreak — which occurred two years after then-President Nixon had banned the use of offensive chemical and biological warfare — Newsday was able to piece together this account of events leading up to the outbreak.
The U.S. intelligence source said that early in 1971 he was given the virus in a sealed, unmarked container at Ft. Gulick, an Army base in the Panama Canal Zone. The CIA also operates a paramilitary training center for career personnel and mercenaries at Ft. Gulick.
The source said he was given instructions to turn the container with the virus over to members of an anti-Castro group.
The container then was given to a person in the Canal Zone, who took it by boat and turned it over to persons aboard a fishing trawler off the Panamanian coast. The source said the substance was not identified to him until months after the outbreak in Cuba. He would not elaborate further.
Another man involved in the operation, a Cuban exile who asked not to be identified, said he was on the trawler when the virus was put aboard at a rendezvous point off Bocas del Toro, Panama. He said the trawler carried the virus to Navassa Island, a tiny, deserted, U.S.-owned island between Jamaica and Haiti. From there, after the trawler made a brief stopover, the container was taken to Cuba and given to other operatives on the southern coast near the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay in late March, according to the source on the trawler. The base is 100 miles due north of Navassa.
The source on the trawler, who had been trained by the CIA and had carried out previous missions for the agency, said he saw no CIA officials aboard the boat that delivered the virus to the trawler off Panama, but added: "We were well paid for this and Cuban exile groups don't have that kind of money . . ."
He said he was revealing the information because he is a member of an exile group being investigated by the United States in connection with terrorist activity in Florida. His account was confirmed by another intelligence source in Miami. The source said he had no proof that the operation was approved by CIA officials in Washington, but added: "In a case like this, though, they would always give them (CIA officials in Washington) plausible deniability."
The investigation referred to by the operative on the trawler involves a federal inquiry into terrorist acts allegedly carried out by Cuban exiles. Those include bombings and assassination attempts in the United States and Venezuela. Trained originally by the CIA for operations against Cuba, the exiles have become more restive as they view what they believe to be an increasing move toward rapprochement between Fidel Castro and the United States.
Flashback: Another Flu Pandemic Causing "Accident" Occurred in 2005
Because the 1957 H2 flu strain was replaced by another new strain in 1968, anyone born after that date has no immunity to it.
"...any escape of the virus in the test kits could be as lethal to them as the Asian flu of 1957." the report stated at the time.
Because such test kits are routine and do not contain dangerous viruses, they are not handed at a high level of biological containment. Therefore the chances of the virus escaping the lab were high and scientists scrambled to find and destroy the potentially lethal samples.
Despite these facts, the federal government downplayed the possibility of foul play. From the AP report:
The New Scientist report also points to another "accident" in 1970 when a H1 flu strain, the cause of the 1918 pandemic, was believed to have escaped from a faulty batch of live flu vaccine prepared in a Russian lab.
Just last month, health authorities and industry groups reviewing European lab safety standards concluded in a new report that research on dangerous pathogens needs to be more strictly monitored.
With all these "accidents" in mind, in addition to reports of the 1918 "Spanish flu" having originated at Fort Riley in Kansas, further scares such as the 1976 swine flu incident which originated at a military base, and clear evidence of attempts by the military to culture influenza as a bio weapon, handling reconstructed versions of lethal strains at less than the maximum level of containment, it is absolutely essential that any new outbreak be questioned with this information in mind.
Swine flu cases recall 1976 episode
Apr 22, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – Swine influenza viruses have never been documented as the cause of a human influenza pandemic, but in 1976 they generated pandemic fears strong enough to trigger a nationwide vaccination campaign.
The reporting of swine flu cases in two California children this week stirred memories of the 1976 episode, which caused major embarrassment for public health authorities when the pandemic never materialized.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced yesterday that two children in southern California fell ill in late March with what turned out to be swine flu infections. Both of the children recovered, and neither was hospitalized.
But the cases raised concern because neither child had any known exposure to pigs, suggesting that human-to-human transmission might have occurred. Further, the virus was found to be a new strain of swine influenza A/H1N1 that differs substantially from human H1N1 strains. That suggested that much of the population could be susceptible to it and that the H1N1 antigen in seasonal flu vaccines probably would not protect people, the CDC said.
CDC and California officials offered little new information on the cases and investigation today. Officials are testing contacts of the two children, including four family members who also were recently sick, to see if they have antibodies indicating they were infected with the H1N1 virus. CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said it would be several days or possibly weeks before the results are available.
Human swine flu infections are rare but have become slightly more frequent in recent years, with 14 cases (including the two in California) since December 2005, according to the CDC. Almost always the infection has been associated with exposure to pigs, which are very commonly infected. Ken August, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health, said today that until the two latest cases, no human cases of swine flu had been identified in California in several years.
Very rarely have people with swine flu infections been known to pass the infection to someone else. One such case occurred in Wisconsin in 1988, when a pregnant woman fell ill after visiting a swine exhibition, according to a CDC question-and-answer article on swine flu. She was hospitalized with pneumonia and died 8 days later. Follow-up studies suggested that "one to three" healthcare workers who had contact with her had mild flu-like illnesses and antibody evidence of swine flu infection.
Far better known is the swine flu episode of 1976. About 200 soldiers in basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey fell ill in January and February, according to a 2006 article by Richard Krause, who was director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the time. At least four soldiers had pneumonia, and one died, according to the CDC article.
The virus was identified as an H1N1 swine flu virus, "thought to be a direct descendant of the virus that caused the pandemic of 1918," wrote Krause. "This conclusion was based on antibodies to H1N1 antigens found in survivors of the 1918 pandemic and the belief that the 1918 virus was eventually transmitted to pigs in the Midwest, where it persisted and caused sporadic human cases."
Public health experts, fearing a possible replay of the 1918 pandemic, engaged in an intense debate about how to respond. Eventually they launched a nationwide vaccination campaign, which was announced by President Gerald Ford in March. By the end of the year, 48 million people had been vaccinated, according to an account in Arthur Allen's book Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver.
But the feared pandemic never materialized. "The virus is thought to have circulated for a month and disappeared," the CDC article says. "The Fort Dix outbreak may have been an animal anomaly caused by introduction of an animal virus into a stressed human population in close contact in crowded facilities during the winter."
Not only did the pandemic fail to appear, but the vaccine apparently harmed some people. Health officials suspended the vaccination campaign on Dec 16, 1976, after receiving numerous reports of Guillian-Barre syndrome (GBS), a paralyzing neurologic illness, after vaccination, according to an August 1979 report in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Nationwide surveillance detected 1,098 patients with GBS onset from October 1976 through January 1977. Epidemiologic evidence suggested that many cases were related to vaccination, with an estimated risk of 1 case for every 100,000 vaccinations.
Studies of influenza vaccines used after 1976 showed no increased risk for GBS in adults except for borderline statistically significant increases in the 1992-93 and 1993-94 flu seasons, according a report in the Jul 15, 2008, issue of Journal of Infectious Diseases. However, experts still don't know what caused the GBS cases after the swine flu vaccination. One theory was that bacterial antigens from contaminated eggs used in vaccine production could have elicited GBS.
In any case, the episode left the public health establishment demoralized. "The debacle opened public health authorities to the kind of criticism and even ridicule that they had never had to countenance before," wrote Allen.
The concern stirred by this week's report of the two swine flu cases in California readily recalled the 1976 episode. But Marie Gramer, DVM, PhD, a University of Minnesota veterinarian who has studied swine flu, cautioned against drawing many parallels as yet.
"It's kind of too early for that," she said. "Certainly in 1976 what got people riled up was that it was adults getting sick. That was outside the norm. This [the California cases] affected children, and children get a lot of influenza."
She said she personally is not overly concerned about the latest cases. "But I think it's important to get this information out there and that people be aware that flu can be shared between humans and pigs," she added.
While influenza is notoriously unpredictable, there is no firm evidence of a swine flu virus having triggered a human flu pandemic, according to multiple reports. The virus that swept around the world in 1918 is believed to have been an avian strain that somehow adapted to humans. The two pandemics since then, in 1957-58 and 1968-69, resulted from genetic reassortment of avian and human strains, though the reassortment could have occurred in an intermediate host such as pigs. No good evidence is available for the many pandemics before 1918.
If by any chance the virus in the California proves capable of spreading from person to person, the existing seasonal flu vaccine will not be likely to protect people, even though the vaccine contains an H1N1 component, according to the CDC. "The H1N1 swine flu viruses are antigenically very different from human H1N1 viruses," the CDC article states.
Most of the flu viruses recently found in pigs have been H1N1 and H3N2 strains, the CDC says. Current swine flu H3N2 viruses are closely related to human H3N2 viruses, because they were introduced into pigs from humans in the late 1990s. But H1N1 swine viruses have been known to circulate in pigs at least since the 1930s.
The seasonal flu vaccine also includes an H3N2 component. Since the human and swine H3N2 strains are closely related, "the seasonal influenza vaccine will likely help provide partial protection against swine H3N2, but not swine H1N1 viruses," according to the CDC.
New swine flu feared to be weaponized strain
According to two mainstream media journalists, one in Mexico City and the other in Jakarta, who spoke to WMR on background, they are convinced that the current outbreak of a new strain of swine flu in Mexico and some parts of the United States is the result of the introduction of a human-engineered pathogen that could result in a widespread global pandemic, with potentially catastrophic consequences for domestic and international travel and commerce.
The journalists have been told by top officials of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) about the grave dangers posed by the new and deadly swine flu strain, known as A-H1N1. This flu, never before seen by scientists, has already killed up to 68 people in Mexico and has forced the cancellation of public events, including sports matches and concerts, and the closure of schools, libraries, and museums. Eight cases have been reported in Texas and California. Doctors are examining several students at a Queens high school in New York who displayed symptoms similar to those experienced by swine flu patients in Mexico.
Our Mexico City source said a top scientist for the United Nations, who has examined the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Africa, as well as HIV/AIDS victims, concluded that H1N1 possesses certain transmission “vectors” that suggest that the new flu strain has been genetically-manufactured as a military biological warfare weapon. The UN expert believes that Ebola, HIV/AIDS, and the current A-H1N1 swine flu virus are biological warfare agents.
Past swine flu outbreaks have been spread from pigs to humans, who then passed the flu on to other humans. However, with A-H1N1, there have been no reported infections of pigs. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), A-H1N1 has gene segments from North American swine, bird and human flu strains and a segment from Eurasian swine flu. Costa Rica, Brazil, and Peru have issued alerts to check all incoming passengers from Mexico at border crossings, airports, and seaports for symptoms of the swine flu.
WHO is convening an emergency session of its top medical experts in Geneva and is set to declare H1N1 a “public health event of international concern.” It is reported that WHO will recommend travel restrictions to and from areas where the flu has been reported, including Mexico City and the states of Mexico, Hidalgo, San Luis PotosÃ and Oaxaca.
Our Jakarta source said WHO officials are afraid that the presence of gene segments from dreaded H5N1 bird flu in the A-H1N1 swine flu strain could mean that the new swine flu strain was engineered to “jump species.”
WMR has been informed that the CDC and U.S. Army dug up the body of an Inuit woman who died in 1918 in Brevig Mission, Alaska from an outbreak of Spanish flu. The influenza pandemic that year killed up to 100 million people worldwide in an 18-month period. Brevig Mission saw 72 of its 80 residents die within five days, the worst case recorded anywhere in the world. WMR has been told the genetic material recovered by the U.S. government from the corpse of the Inuit woman provided the basis for the development of the H5N1, or bird (avian), flu strain at the U.S. Army Medical Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, the point of origin for the Ames strain of anthrax used in the 2001 bio-war attacks against the U.S. Congress and the media.
The fear in Asia is that if the A-H1N1 pandemic spreads to the United States, travel to and from the country will be all but shut down.
The following are the symptoms associated with A-H1N1:
The drugs Tamiflu and Relenza are seen as the most effective against A-H1N1.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
Copyright © 2008 WayneMadenReport.com
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